One of my key tips for growing your Instagram account quickly and organically is to be in the photos yourself (read the full post with all 25 tips here). It took me a while to accept this idea, but being in the photos has made such a difference in terms of my own growth and engagement. Even if you’re not a blogger or Instagrammer, sometimes you just want to have some photos of your kids with yourself in them. You want that memory for yourself as well as for your kids. I know I really cherish my childhood photos with my mom and I, and I want my kids to have that as well. To look back and realize that I was very much present in their childhood and to see those magical moments we shared together captured on camera. So what’s a mama to do? Turning to your hubby to take pictures of you seems the logical answer. But what if he works all day? What if he doesn’t like taking photos or he’s not a natural photographer? What if you’re like me and you want way more creative control when it comes to taking photos? There’s really just one answer – take the photos yourself!
I take about 90% of all the photos you see on my Instagram feed with me in them myself using a camera-tripod-remote setup (and 100% of the photos in this post were taken by me). And I’m here to tell you that you can absolutely do the same – you don’t need an #instagramhusband to capture beautiful content of you and your kids. It’s absolutely doable all by yourself. Read on for my top 20 tips on how to take self-portraits with your kids, even if you’re more comfortable behind the camera than in front (like I was and, honestly still am).
[ 1 ] Get a good camera remote
Whilst most cameras (and phones) allow you to do self-timer photos (aka click the shutter and it counts down several seconds before it starts shooting one or more photos), I think you’re way too restricted with this option when it comes to taking photos with kids. Pressing the shutter and then running into the frame just doesn’t allow for proper (aka natural!) engagement and makes the kids all too aware of the camera. So do yourself a favour and invest in a remote. There are so many options out there that you’re bound to find something that works for your budget and your camera. I have basic remotes for both my Nikon D610 and Sony A6300, a HiSY remote for my iPhone (although I rarely take iPhone shots these days), as well as the native Sony phone app for taking photos with my Sony A6300. Of all the options I love the last one the best because it allows me to see a live preview of the shot whilst I’m taking photos which is great for positioning yourself within the shot. But all four of these options work well and it’s really about seeing what remote is compatible with your camera and going from there.
[ 2 ] Invest in a proper tripod
Once you’ve got a remote, the second most important piece of equipment is a good tripod. Whilst it’s not absolutely necessary, a tripod will make your life infinitely easier because you can position the camera exactly where you want it. I have two tripods that I use on a regular basis: (1) a traditional DLSR tripod that isn’t small or light but can extend pretty far up and holds a camera securely even when I wedge it into the corner to maximize what I can get into the frame; and (2) a Joby Gorillapod that is great for taking with me and attaching to the handlebar of a stroller (best travel tripod solution ever since I almost always have a stroller with me).
[ 3 ] Make a DIY camera tripod
A tripod won’t work in every situation, so for those other types of shots, you’ll need to get a little more creative. I love top-down photography but rarely have someone around to take the shot for me. Which is why I came up with a super simple (and ingenious, if you ask me! :P) method of just taping a phone / camera shelf to the ceiling and placing my phone or camera in there. (The shelf is made out of cardboard and taped up with painters tape.) It’s actually so much better than having someone else take the photo because I can set the angle up exactly how I want it and there’s no movement so I can shoot with a relatively slow shutter (in my dark house this is absolutely key, especially when it comes to the living room).
I wrote a whole post about this style of photography here, but back then I was just using my iPhone for these shots. I’m now also placing my lightweight Sony A6300 camera up there (with a super light 20mm lens that I put through a hole I cut into the cardboard) and it works well for me. I use my iPhone (since the Sony has a native remote app) which lets me see the shot exactly as it will be taken (so I can adjust the camera up there as needed) and then I usually just click the shutter (with a 2-second delay), flip the phone and let the phone be part of the shot. Or I’ll quickly hide it behind a pillow or somewhere out of frame.
Side note: I do feel the need to put a big disclaimer here: don’t try this with heavier cameras slash make sure that, whatever you do end up using, your taped construction holds it up. You don’t want your expensive camera coming down from there and shattering all over the floor!
[ 4 ] Practice on your own
This is really, really important. Since getting a good shot with the kids when you’re behind the camera is hard enough as is, imagine how hard it is when you’re trying to get yourself in the shot as well. Throw in most mamas (and women, in general) don’t feel comfortable in front of the camera, you’re bound to just get awkward shots that you don’t like anyway. So it’s super important that you first practice (and practice a lot!) on your own. There’s no stress, you can take as long as you need and take as many photos as you need, and it will get you comfortable in front of the camera so that at least that element of self-portrait photography with kids is taken care of.
[ 5 ] Start with solo shots
Speaking of practicing on your own, don’t just practice, actually take photos of yourself that are worthy of posting to your Instagram. Set up shots that work well with just mom so that you (a) have photos of yourself (hey, you are your own person outside of being a mom, after all) and, when you’re the sole focus of a photo, it really gets you into a model mindset. If you are aware of how your body and face photographs and can carry a photo on your own (so to speak), it will work out a million times better once you do bring your kids into the equation.
[ 6 ] Hide your face
I don’t know about you, but my face is the most awkward part of a photo of me. Even after almost 2 years of being an Instagrammer (and over a year of making sure I’m in a lot of the photos), I’m still so self-conscious in front of the camera and usually that translates to an awkward expression. My solution? Take my face out of the equation! There are so many cool shots you can take where your face isn’t in the shot at all. And for Instragram, these style of shots usually do pretty well because people love to imagine themselves in your photo (see the #followmeto phenomenom). Show off your pretty hair from the back or hide your face behind a hat or flowers whilst still showing off your outfit – it’s a great way to photograph yourself in the beginning when you’re not sure of what to do with your face.
[ 7 ] Find your best angles
Practicing on your own has a huge advantage – it allows you to figure out what angles you find most flattering. If you’re sitting or standing, there are a ton of little tweaks you can make to take your pose from awkward and unflattering to graceful and flattering. This is where I love two things: (1) Pinterest and (2) a phone remote app for your camera. Pinterest is great for finding different poses to try out. There are so many tutorials floating around as well as just millions of fashion blogger photos that you can study to see what they tend to do with their body (and face!) in front of the camera. And then the phone remote app is fantastic for putting yourself in front of the camera and then seeing live what your body looks like in the shot. Rotating your body to the most flattering angle, straightening or rounding your shoulders, switching your leg position a bit, etc. – all of that is great to see live whilst you set up a shot. After a while you start to figure out certain default positions that work well for you. And you’ll also realize that the poses that look best / most natural on camera are usually actually quite awkward to do in person haha. But it’s what the end photo looks like that matters, am I right?
[ 8 ] Set up the scene beforehand
Once you’re at a point where you’re ready to include your kids in the photo, it’s still all about doing as much as possible without your kids. And that means setting everything up whilst they’re not around or whilst they’re busy eating / sleeping / playing / etc. Figure out where you want your camera and set up the tripod to catch that perfect angle. Tidy anything up in the frame (if you want a clean look). Pick out outfits (if you and/or your kids are wearing something else in the shot). Whatever it is that you want for the end result, have it all ready to go before you round up your kids. Yes, you’re staging the shot but it’s much better to have a staged shot where you and your kids are natural in the shot because you only need 30 seconds to get the perfect photo, rather than not being ready, figuring things out as you’re trying to shoot, and then everyone is strained in the final photo because it took way too long.
[ 9 ] Set manual focus
Another crucial aspect of self-portrait photography with kids is to set up a manual focus (if you’re using a camera). Learning how to shoot in manual, in general, is super helpful when you’re in front of the camera as well as behind. Set up your shutter speed to be fast enough to capture wiggly kids (for non-jumping photos, I like to have it at 1/125 or higher and I’ll only shoot that “slow” if it’s too dark and I’m trying to avoid too high of an ISO), and set up your aperture a little narrower (aka f-stop number higher) than you would if you were behind the camera. That way, you don’t have to worry about slight variations in your positioning for manual focus. What I always do is I use a standard camera remote and stand right in the middle of where I want the depth of field to be, take a photo in auto focus, then check out the photo to make sure I’m really sharp, and switch my camera focus to manual. That way even if we’re not in the middle of the frame in the actual photo, we’ll still be in focus.
[ 10 ] Do a test shot by yourself
Once you have the tripod set up, the correct camera settings (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) as well as the manual focus set to the correct depth of field, take a shot of just yourself exactly where you’d like to be once the kids are in the photo and doing exactly what you’ll be doing as well. So if you want to capture a twirling photo or a partner yoga shot, for example, create the photo exactly as you want it minus the kids. This way you can check to make sure your shutter speed, for example, is fast enough to capture movement (twirling, jumping) and everything else is exactly how you would want it. (You might realize, for example, that the angle is a little off and you’re farther to the side of the photo than you had envisioned). Nothing is worse than taking the time to set everything up, getting your kids in the photo, taking a photo, and realizing one little detail is off and ruins the whole thing. Better to spend an extra minute beforehand to get everything just right.
[ 11 ] Use a delayed shutter to take your photo
Most cameras give you the option of delaying the shutter after you click the button on your remote. If you’ve got that option available to you, definitely make use of it because it means being able to hide the remote (or iPhone, in the case of my Sony) out of sight for the actual photo. If you’re able to delay a burst of photos (e.g. 10 photos taken in quick succession), even better, because it will give you some room for interacting with your kids.
[ 12 ] Get in the habit of hiding your hand
Whilst I love using a delayed start to completely hide the fact that I’m using a remote to take the photo, sometimes it’s just easiest to hide your hand whilst holding a remote. Especially when you’re photographing young kids with very little patience, only being able to take a photo every 2 seconds just isn’t going to work all the time. So get creative and learn how to hide your hand whilst still being able to take the photo (the signal won’t make it through all surfaces so, for example, I can’t hide my hand under the table and try and take a photo that way).
[ 13 ] Start with one kid
And by one kid I mean the easier kid. Don’t worry about playing favourites, if you’ve got a kid who is so much easier to photograph slash direct, then use that kid and only that kid for your photos for the first little while. For me that’s definitely, without a doubt, Isabelle. If you’re wondering why I have more photos of myself with just her than with just Nicolas, this is why. It’s all about getting comfortable with self-portrait photography and it’s sooooo much easier to (a) do with only one kid (if you’ve got more than one) and with a kid who listens to your direction pretty well. After a while you learn the tricks it takes to get even your more uncooperative kid(s) in the photo (e.g. how you need to engage with them, how to make it fun for them, etc.) but in the beginning whilst you’re still learning, make it just a little easier for yourself and play favourites.
[ 14 ] Engage with your kids
This is really the key to self-portrait photography with kids. Engaging with your kids in the photo means (a) the photo will feel so much more natural because the interaction is natural (even if the scene itself is staged), (b) your kids might not even notice they’re being photographed, and (c) you’ll be creating snapshots of real moments rather than fully staged, fake-smiling-for-the-camera moments. Play with them, tickle them, do yoga with them – whatever is most natural for you, do that in front of the camera as well.
[ 15 ] Give your kid(s) something to do in the photo
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll notice I also love staged photos. There’s just something fun about creating symmetry through what we’re wearing (aka #twinning) or the pose we’re doing. That’s obviously not how we naturally go through our day, so these shots are entirely set up to showcase that symmetry. For adults it’s easy to say “okay, sit there and put your legs like this”, etc. But a toddler? No way. Even Isabelle, who is honestly so good at being photographed these days, is not into being posed all the time. So give your kids something to do. For our matchy matchy photos, (family on chairs, legs up in bed or on the sofa, etc.) I always need something to engage my kids. Whether it’s a food or drink that they love, a phone or iPad to play a game, or even something sneakier than that. For example, for the #familyonchairs photo with the newspaper (above left), we put stickers on the one side of their paper and had them count the stickers. For the legs up in bed I always stick stickers on the wall (that I Photoshop out) and have them try and touch the stickers with their toes. It’s all about sneaky ways to make it fun for kids to get them to do what you want them to do naturally.
For more lifestyle shots it’s of course much easier. I do a lot of cooking photos because my kids legit love helping in the kitchen so it’s such an easy photo to take. Or yoga with Isabelle – she thinks she’s a pro so she’s always up for showing off her “flamingo” (aka tree pose) or other poses that we’ve worked on together. If your kids have something to do in the photo, it’ll make it so much easier for you.
[ 16 ] Take photos before something fun
I’ve made the mistake of setting up a photo with the sole intention of capturing a moment and nothing else. Those usually don’t go well for me (for the most part – see tip #20 for how I manage the staged photos that I really just take for Instagram). What I find works best is when I plan my photo taking schedule ahead of time and plan photos at the beginning of fun activities. So, for example, if I want a shot at the beach, I make sure I actually have time to spend at the beach afterwards and tell my kids that we’re heading to the beach, mommy wants to take a quick photo of all us being silly and jumping, and then we’re going to have a rock throwing competition. That way, the photo is being taken care of right at the beginning and the kids have lots of time for fun afterwards. This way, it’s about the activity (going to the beach and throwing rocks) rather than for photo taking itself.
[ 17 ] Don’t look at the camera
I think this one is pretty easy for most people when their kids are in the photos, but it’s one thing I’ve found to be the most helpful for feeling comfortable in front of the camera. Just don’t look at the camera! Pretend it’s not there, focus on your kids, engage with them, and the end result will look that much more natural. I tend to prefer a side profile anyways because I find it’s a lot harder to look awkward from the side. Plus that interaction with my kids that results from me looking at them rather than at the camera makes for a much nicer photo, in my opinion.
[ 18 ] When in doubt, jump
If you’re not sure what to do in a photo, just jump! (Now you know why I post so many jumping photos! Haha.) But seriously, what kid doesn’t like jumping and being silly? If jumping isn’t your jam, find something that is. Have a default pose or activity that you’re super comfortable doing and then you’ll never find yourself in the situation of having set up a shot, being ready to go, and then not knowing what the heck to do.
[ 19 ] Get used to stares
I feel like in this day and age of social media, people are used to young people (can I still call myself young? :P) taking photos of themselves in public. But setting up a tripod in public and then taking photos of yourself is always going to be awkward. Embrace it! Seriously. The photo will be worth the stares. My recent umbrella jumping photo I had a whole crew of construction workers watching me the whole time, with umbrella in hand (no rain, of course) jumping like an idiot on a pier at the beach. That went on for 15 minutes before one of them had the nerve to come over and ask what I’m doing. I’m sure they thought I was crazy but, really, I’m never going to see these people again so who cares? (I feel like this sort of I-give-no-sh*ts attitude comes with being a mom and my pre-kids self wouldn’t quite be so non-chalant.)
[ 20 ] When all else fails, there’s always Netflix
I get so many questions on my Instagram about how in the heck I get my kids to sit still for a family on chairs photo or for a legs up in bed or crossed on the sofa shot. And the answer? Netflix! We have their favourite show running right next to the camera for the chair photos. And then we engage with them (e.g. “Isabelle say cheese to the camera!!” or “okay, you can drink your chocolate milk now!”) and it’s just a million times easier if they’ve got the iPad to focus on. They’re more willing to follow directions semi-subconsciously it seems. Ha! For the legs up in bed or when we’re lying down on the bed and have a top down shot (like the Christmas PJs photo above), I usually tape my phone to the ceiling and, again, play some Netflix or Youtube car videos for Nicky (Nicky generally refuses to lie down ever, so this is the only way I can get him to do it). When they’re watching a show, I’ll say “okay, now cross your legs!” and they’ll do it for a few seconds which is when I get my shot. Ahh, Netflix, my saving grace as an Instagrammer.
Phew, that was long. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! Hopefully you’ve been able to pick up a few good tips to help you take your self-portrait game to the next level. If you already take your own photos, I’d love to know any other tips that work well for you!